CARTHAGE, Mo. —
Le Bee, 22, seemed to be having fun as a first-time visitor to Marian Days, snapping pictures with her friends and sampling the Vietnamese cuisine.
She also had a cold drink in her hand — a common sight, along with hand-held paper fans and umbrellas to shield the sun, at the festival as temperatures topped 100 degrees by Thursday afternoon.
“Oh my God,” the Detroit, Mich., resident said. “It’s so hot.”
Despite the triple-digit temperatures, tens of thousands of Catholics of Vietnamese descent are at the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix campus in Carthage for the annual Marian Days celebration, one of the country’s largest Roman Catholic festivals. Visitors from around the country, and some from outside the United States, will gather through Sunday for music, food and prayer as part of the festival, which focuses on devotion to Mary, Jesus’ mother.
Nghi Nguyen, an anesthesiologist from Pittsburgh, Pa., who was serving in the medical station, said he already had seen a few heat-related illnesses — heat stroke, headaches and dehydration — since arriving in Carthage on Tuesday.
“We got some patients with dehydration, and the heat further complicates the problem,” he said. “It’s very, very hot, I think.”
Nguyen said many visitors to Marian Days likely aren’t used to this kind of heat. Speaking from the air-conditioned sanctuary of his indoor medical station, he said he made the 18-hour drive from Pennsylvania for his 26th trip to Marian Days for two reasons.
“We feel that as Catholics, we worship God first, and secondly, we help people with Catholic norms,” he said. “That’s what I want to do, to come here so I can pray and help people.”
Viet Mai, an 18-year-old from Austin, Texas, was staying cool Thursday with a boba bubble tea, a fruit-and-smoothie mixture that contains tapioca pearls, a common ingredient in many Asian desserts and teas. He seemed to be tolerating the heat better than many of his counterparts.
“Ever since we moved to Texas, this is pretty good,” he said. “It’s a little humid, but it’s OK.”
Mai, who is camping at the church campus during the festival, said temperatures are more manageable at night, when they dip into the upper 70s.
“You just kind of have to stick it through,” he said.
Nearby, 21-year-old Cindy Lee, from the Houston, Texas, area, was beating the heat with a pennywort drink. Pennywort, she said, is a plant found in the swamps of Vietnam; when ground up and mixed with sugar, it can be refreshing.
“It’s the ‘cool drink’ — that’s what it translates as,” she said. “It’s actually made to cool you down.”
Lee said she skipped Marian Days for the past few years because of the heat, but she attended this year because her mother did not want to travel alone.
She also said she hasn’t always enjoyed Marian Days, but she has grown to support it because of her strong Vietnamese roots and the opportunity to unite with other young Vietnamese-Americans.
“It’s very communal here,” she said. “We’re really big on helping people in Vietnam because they don’t have a choice. That’s why all the kids, even all the gangsterized ones, will support that. We are here to build bridges because we choose to.”
Lee and her friends, some of whom she had just met earlier Thursday morning, had one more idea in store when temperatures got too high: a trip to the nearby air-conditioned Wal-Mart.
Power use by campers and others on the CMC campus will increase the demand on the Carthage Water & Electric Plant, but the city-owned utility plans for it in advance every year, said Bob Williams, executive director.
“We’ll see the load go up, but we plan for it and it’s not at a level that will stress us,” he said.
The major impact of the power increase, he said, will be in distribution lines on the CMC campus.
“There will be some overheated breakers and things like that,” he said. “We expect to get called out there to watch the circuits and transformers.”
Tom Short, city administrator, said that despite dry lawns from the drought, officials are not concerned about fireworks that will be used after Sunday’s procession to mark the end of the festival.
The City Council each year approves measures to close streets, and allow fireworks and other activities that are part of the celebration. Because of the drought, the fireworks issue was discussed again at the last meeting of the council’s public safety committee, Short said.
“What they’ll be shooting off is essentially firecrackers, and they’ll be doing it on pavement,” he said.
STAFF WRITER SUSAN REDDEN contributed to this report.
Marian Days origins
AFTER THE FALL OF SAIGON in 1975, a group of Vietnamese priests affiliated with the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix, a religious order within the Roman Catholic Church, fled Vietnam and came to the U.S. as “boat people.” Bishop Bernard Law, of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese, made arrangements for a monastery for part of the order at a then-vacant seminary, Our Lady of the Ozarks College, in Carthage. In 1977, about 200 Vietnamese Catholics gathered at the campus to give thanks, marking the beginning of what would become the annual festival.